In the Spring and in warm and humid climates, insect repellent can save you from varying degrees of misery. Whether the sting or itching from a bite or dangerous viruses that some insects carry — either way they should be avoided.
The problem is that nearly all of the commercial products available are loaded with chemicals that can be quite dangerous, particularly if used frequently. It seems almost impossible to buy non-toxic insect repellent. But we have some pretty easy solutions. First, here are some of the ugly facts about commercial insect repellents, so you know what to avoid.
Insect Repellents: Loaded with Toxic Chemical
Insect repellents are important and there are a lot of options. But BEWARE, many of these products contain dangerous chemicals such as DEET. Here are a few facts about mosquito repellents:
- Every year, about one-third of us will rub on five to seven million pounds of repellent in an attempt to fend off hungry mosquitoes.
- Any chemical, including any pesticide, can pose risks to people, pets, or the environment. Understanding pesticide risk will help you take steps to minimize it.
- Overall, the risk of a pesticide depends on two things, exposure (how much are you putting on your body or breathing in) and toxicity (how poisonous is it).
- DEET is a registered pesticide. It is absorbed through the skin and passes into the bloodstream. The biggest concerns about DEET are its potential effects on the brain and central nervous system and, depending on the level of exposure, can potentially lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.
- Icaridin (also known as Saltidin or Picaridin) was later introduced as an alternative to DEET. It doesn’t carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but has not been tested as much over the long term. Certainly a better option than DEET, but maybe not the best.
- Other options to keep mosquitos at bay that aren’t advised include electronic devices (that emit a low-frequency sound, however scientists say these simply don’t work); bug zappers (except that mosquitoes are more drawn to carbon monoxide than UV light, so they don’t have much effect either); and mosquito coils (spiral-shaped coils that contain insecticide and are lit like incense). Unfortunately using one mosquito coil emits the equivalent amount of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) as 51 cigarettes.
So what are the best solutions?
- If you are going to be outdoors, wear pants, long sleeve shirts, socks and closed toe shoes. If it’s warm out, try light-colored and lightweight fabrics that breathe, allowing good airflow to keep you cool but minimizing access to your skin by mosquitos. This way, if you do use a repellent, you don’t have to use very much to cover exposed areas of skin. You can use fine netting over strollers and baby carriers.
- Plants whose essential oils have been reported to have repellent properties include cedar and lemon eucalyptus. You can easily make your own natural mosquito repellent using lemon eucalyptus essential oil mixed with a carrier oil or alcohol (10% essential oil and 90% diluting alcohol or carrier oil such as avocado oil or fractionated coconut oil). Put it in a spray bottle, shake and spray (and keep it out of the sun). It smells nice and works well, but should be re-applied every couple of hours.
All Natural Mosquito and Insect Repellent
To make your own truly heavy duty insect repellent, you can follow this recipe (all ingredients are available on Amazon or in naturopath stores):
- 6 – 8 oz. of aloe vera liquid or witch hazel, or alcohol or fractionated coconut oil,
- 40 drops of tea tree oil
- 20 drops of geranium oil
- 20 drops of neem oil
- 1 T. vegetable glycerin (optional)
- 20 drops of essential oils such as peppermint or wintergreen
- Put into a spray bottle, shake well and apply.
These ingredients are all easily available on Amazon. If you are outdoors a lot, this is a good investment to get the ingredients and they will be good for many large batches of the insect repellent and will probably last you a year or two of regular use. It works very well too!